Noël Coward, Print Culture, and Popularity

This is a project by Faye Hammill (Strathclyde), funded by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (2015).


This project reorients the study of Noël Coward from performance to print culture, revealing his place in literary history and his relationship to modernism. Today, he is firmly categorised as a popular entertainer, but during his lifetime, his career was understood in more complex terms. In press coverage, Coward's name signaled tensions between 'art' and 'entertainment', 'popular' and 'modernist,' 'sophisticated' and 'sentimental.' Similar oppositions structure his own writing, especially his contributions to newspapers and magazines, which have been ignored by previous critics. They include parodies of experimental poetry and provocative articles on modern drama. The project investigates periodical texts by and about Coward in order to explore broad questions about the impact of celebrity on cultural hierarchies, and about the way the language of value worked in the early to mid-20th century.

 Activities and outputs

Research is being carried out in the Noël Coward collection at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

In January 2015 I gave a paper including some of my preliminary research at the Centre for the History of the Book, University of Edinburgh. The title was 'The magazine and the marvellous party.'

An article, 'Noël Coward and the Sitwells: enmity, celebrity, popularity', appeared in the Journal of Modern Literature 39.1

A short piece on Coward and the Sitwells is in the Summer 2015 edition of Home Chat, published by The Noël Coward Society.

I gave a public lecture on 'Noël Coward and Transatlantic Style' in Birmingham on 15 October 2015. This was in association with the exhibition 'Noël Coward: An Entertainer Abroad' and with the Book to the Future festival. Noël Coward: An Entertainer Abroad is accompanied by an online exhibition curated by Lucy Mounfield.

At the Modernist Studies Association annual conference (Boston, November 2015) I co-organised a seminar on 'Print culture and popularity' with Professor Mark Hussey.

An article entitled "Noël Coward, Rebecca West, and the Modernist Scene" has appeared in Modernist Cultures (2016).

Previous work

My earlier presentations on Coward have included three conference keynotes:

Brock University. Keynote lecture at the Association for Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Canada. May 2014. Paper title: 'Sophistication, Modernism, Entertainment.'

New York University. 'Rebecca West: Celebrity, Publicity, Memory.' Conference of the International Rebecca West Society. Sept 2013. Paper title: 'MY DEAR THE PEOPLE WE SHOULD HAVE BEEN SEEN DEAD WITH: Rebecca West and Noel Coward.'

University of Wollongong, Australia. "Literary Fame: Then and Now" symposium. Feb 2012. Paper title:'Noël Coward, the Sitwells and the middlebrow.'

Arts and Humanities Research CouncilUniversity of Strathclyde Sheffield Hallam University

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